Private New York City firework displays: What’s legal and what’s culturally acceptable

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"An assortment of some of the illegal fireworks seized by the NYPD." Photo via NYPD

In the thousands of years since Prometheus stole fire for the human race, we have developed it in a number of ways, including to light air bombs which detonate in an explosion of glittery air and noise pollution, bringing our children joy and tinnitus. Well aware of fireworks’ many inherent dangers, the American legal system has attempted to regulate pyrotechnics in a mess of bureaucratic measures differing wildly based on county. Of course, an illegal culture surrounding fireworks has also developed.

There are many nuanced NYC neighborly norms, some written some simply known, and when it comes to the 4th of July it’s important to be aware of these, for the sake of both your health and your criminal record.


"Illegal fireworks confiscated by the NYPD are destroyed in a controlled burn at the police firing range in Rodman’s Neck, the Bronx." Photo via New York's Finest
“Illegal fireworks confiscated by the NYPD are destroyed in a controlled burn at the police firing range in Rodman’s Neck, the Bronx.” Photo via NYPD

Legally speaking

According to the city of New York’s official website: “In New York City, all consumer fireworks including sparklers are illegal to use, buy, sell, or transport. Vehicles used to transport fireworks may be seized by the police.”

Legal fireworks displays are issued permits by the Fire Department. A list of “sponsors” possessing permits makes it clear only established organizations – Alliance for Coney Island Inc., Macy’s, the Bronx Borough President’s Office, among others – are typically granted the honor of being allowed to legally put on fireworks shows.

In brief then, private firework displays are wildly illegal in NYC. The city even offers, “up to $1,000 for a tip that leads to the arrest and conviction of people selling, storing, or transporting fireworks.”  Mere possession and use can potentially merit you a hefty fine, your arrest, and the confiscation of your car, but in the case your fireworks get out of control you could be facing arson charges, or worse if someone gets maimed.


Photo via Wikipedia
Photo via Wikipedia

Locally speaking

A lot of people go to Pennsylvania or upstate to acquire fireworks for their own personal usage or to sell, which is of course very illegal. On the 4th of July, depending on where you live, you will probably notice a number of sporadic explosions which are pretty clearly not officially authorized. According to 311, Southern Brooklyn especially has sparked a number of fireworks-related complaints over the years. Upper Manhattan’s Inwood is known for its private firework display, an illegal show so spectacular it merited its own documentary.

Talk to borough old-timers and they’ll tell you it used to be a lot worse, that illegal firework use was rampant on the 4th of July before Giuliani cracked down on it. Still though, it persists, with most people being courteous and intelligent enough to at least set off their sparklers from rooftops. Be cautious out there on the 4th, though: keep your eyes peeled for stray street rockets. It’s scary and comes down to luck and quick thinking, when you’re walking or driving and see a firework shoot out in front of you.

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  1. Remember when NYC was fun? It was way more fun and exciting before fucking giuliani, that self-serving prick. Dad used to buy my sister and I fireworks, taught us how to use them safely and wasn’t getting us rocket sized launchers of course. Now you have to get a permit to fart.

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